Sunbutter vs. Peanut Butter
A Bite-for-Bite Comparison
I'm not sure what first attracted me to Sunbutter, a spread made from sunflower seeds that is peanut free but looks, "feels" & tastes like peanut butter. Maybe it was the warm, sunny name. Maybe it was the pleasure of imagining that severely peanut-allergic folks, like my nephew and some of my children's friends, might now be able to enjoy a PB-like sandwich or cookie. (Sorry, soy butter never really did it for me :P And almond butter, while tasty, is often processed in facilities that also handle peanuts.)
Whatever the lure, I grabbed a jar of Sunbutter from the local grocery and set up some side-by-side comparisons with our "house" peanut butter, Skippy Natural. The highly subjective ramblings below may at least give you a sense of what Sunbutter is like.
image: Van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1888
Straight From the Jar
On its own, the Sunbutter "natural crunch" variety (which was the only version my store carried) was really quite decent. It had more depth of flavor and was more "roasty"--for lack of a better term--than the Skippy Natural peanut butter, which I had in creamy style. In sweetness, the two products were about equal.
Advantage:: Tie. I'd take the Sunbutter for 2 bites, but if I had to eat 5, maybe the Skippy. Only because the deeper, "roastier" taste might start to wear out its welcome. But who eats more than a couple bites of nut butter out of the jar, anyway?
p.s. As with peanut butter, it's possible to customize the taste by making your own sunflower seed butter. Here's a sugar-free recipe that could easily be adapted, if sugar's okay by you.
To State the Obvious(!)
This type of product throwdown is safe only for non-allergic types (like me). Even if you're not allergic but have a child or adult in your home with a peanut allergy, you won't want to replicate these shenanigans. Much better safe than sorry.
As for Sunbutter, here's the allergy statement straight from its label:
"Made on equipment that processes soybeans. Processed in a peanut free and tree nut free facility."
For more info, you can call the manufacturer-- SunGold Foods, Inc. -- directly at 800-437-5539.
In a Sandwich
Hmm. Maybe it's because I used a fairly sweet bread (my kids like cinnamon-swirl bread for their PBJ sandwiches, so that's what I used), but between that and the all-fruit strawberry spread, it was actually pretty tough to tell the difference between the Sunbutter and peanut butter sandwiches. Which is probably a good thing, right?
On a Cracker
I laid out a few Ritz and spread some with Sunbutter, some with Skippy. The Sunbutter crackers weren't bad or anything, but the peanut butter ones created a knockout punch of nostalgia. After-school snacks. Swim-meet energy boosters. Snacking along to the Partridge Family, circa 1974. Sigh...
Advantage: Peanut butter
Even if you don't fry them up in a sandwich like Elvis -- let's not & say we did -- PB and banana pair well together. But in this taste test, I found the Skippy atop a slice of banana a bit cloying. Sugar overload. The roastier flavor of the Sunbutter came in handy here, playing off the banana's creamy sweetness.
In a Milkshake
One of my best discoveries of 2009 was just how much peanut butter one can pack into a milkshake without one's somewhat underweight, protein-averse kid noticing. It's amazing! So I decided to try the same trick with Sunbutter.
Starting with a vanilla shake, I added a heaping tablespoon of Sunbutter. Oddly, the resulting taste reminded me of the old "drumstick" ice cream treat from the Good Humor truck. (Maybe they still sell those? Not sure.) But I like that taste, so it wasn't a problem.
I tasted again after adding 2 heaping tbsp. of Ovaltine to the shake. Yum! Still a bit "drumstick" like, but in a good way.
On the other hand, the Sunbutter's slightly stronger taste means you can probably get away with less of it in a shake than the peanut butter. I also had to blend the Sunbutter shake a bit longer than a PB one to get it creamy enough, but that wasn't a big deal.
Advantage: Peanut butter, if volume or "density" is a goal. If not --tie.
Right before the kids came home, I threw together some World's Easiest Peanut Butter Cookies, replacing peanut butter with Sunbutter. As with peanut butter, this created a sticky dough that needed to be smooshed down on the cookie sheet with a fork. My Sunbutter cookies took about 10 minutes to bake, but ovens vary, so if you make these, start checking after about 8. When the kids trampled in, I nonchalantly handed each a cookie -- no explanation about the Sunbutter, as my guys are not super adventurous and would likely opt out if they had the fully story.
Guess what? They gobbled up the Sunbutter cookies without complaint. And so did I :}
Advantage: Close one. I'd say the peanut butter cookies, but not by much.
If you want to branch out from the World's Easiest, here are some other flourless sunbutter cookie recipes to try:
Note: A weird issue can come up when you bake with Sunbutter. I didn't have this problem with the World's Easiest cookies, because they don't require a leavening agent, but the chlorogenic acid in sunflower seeds can turn some Sunbutter baked goods green! Click here for a concise, witty explanation and tips on prevention. Or limit your baking to March 17 ;)
Is Sunbutter Good for You?
Based on the health benefits of sunflower seeds, I'd say this has got to be an overall "yes."
Like peanuts, sunflower seeds are high in "good fat" that can help ward off heart disease. They're rich in phytosterols, believed to reduce blood cholesterol. They provide magnesium for healthy bones, plus plenty of antioxidant power in the form of vitamin E.
But how does Sunbutter, specifically, stack up nutritionally against its more traditional cousin? Checking the labels, I see equal amounts of fat (16g per 2 tbsp. serving) and cholesterol (0g). They have identical, reassuringly low sugar counts (3g per serving). The Skippy Natural peanut butter has a bit more sodium: 150mg, compared to 120 for the Sunbutter. But they both have 7g of protein--a key figure when your kids are near-vegetarians like mine.
Where to find Sunbutter
The product's been spotted at national chains like Target and Trader Joe's, so call your nearest branch to check. Or ask your grocery to order, if it's not on the shelves already. You can also grab Sunbutter online, at a bulk price much lower than what I paid for a solo jar at our local store.
If you end up using this product habitually, choose the "subscribe and save" option for a modest savings.
Out of concern over peanut allergy, some schools have outlawed peanut products in sack lunches. At others, like our local school district, lunches can contain peanut, but families are asked to label them as such. We use these lables when we pack PBJs or PB cookies.
Or have you already tried it? Share your impressions here...